This Thursday, I will turn twenty-three years old. Or, twenty-three years young depending on how you want to look at it. In that span of time, I have seen only my hometown Philadelphia Phillies win a World Series championship in 2008. The Eagles have made on Super Bowl appearance to which they lost to the New England Patriots, the Sixers lost the NBA Finals in 2001 to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Across the state, the city of Pittsburgh has reeled in quite the accomplishment in going to back to back with the Penguins having won their fifth championship. Does this make them a dynasty? Does this cement Sidney Crosby’s legacy? The answers, from a Philadelphia fan nonetheless, might surprise you.
Let’s get this out of the way first; I despise the Penguins, quite frankly I don’t think they are a classy team, however, when I talk sports or write about them for that matter, I try and do my best to set my bias aside. The Penguins have had an incredible run since 2009 when Crosby and company captured their first cup in two decades. Looking at this team, and really trying to understand the game of hockey overall, there’s just nothing that I can say negatively about the makeup of this team. Goaltender Matt Murray has been an incredible story. Murray came up last season and longtime Penguin goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury was moved to the bench due to Murray’s immediate success. Murray came in, solidified Pittsburgh’s goalie woes and carried them to a win against the San Jose Sharks. This year, Murray did the same thing against a hot team like the Nashville Predators. Murray was up and down in the postseason, but he battled and he persevered which is incredible for a young goaltender to do in arguably the most rigorous of postseason action in terms of the four major sports.
What’s more impressive is how many ways the Penguins can kill an opposing team. It could be Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Patrick Hornqvist or even Jake Guentzel. Their powerplay is ferocious and tenacious, almost always finding the back of the net. Their teammate play is incredible, they always find the open man and find a way to get everyone involved. Their speed up and down the ice is majestic, you simply can’t out skate the team. Their defense is a “bend, but don’t break” approach, relying on their netminder to shut the door when the time comes. It’s hard for me as a Philadelphia fan to listen to this, let alone admit it, but it’s truth. The Penguins makeup is just so rock solid, that all 29 other teams should copy the blueprint on how to build a dynasty.
Crosby. Sidney Crosby, the most polarizing figure in all of professional hockey. The one player the national sports media cannot seem to stop drooling over (yea, you Mike Millbury) You loathe him because he’s not on your team, but you would sell your soul to the devil to have him on your team. Yes, I will still argue Crosby can be a whiny little brat, but the man is good. Damn good. I look at Claude Giroux of the Flyers and wish he would mimic Crosby’s willingness to not only pass but score. There has been so much talk of who the best player in hockey is. Some say Alexander Ovechkin, but he’s yet to even make it to a Stanley Cup Final. Some say Patrick Kane; fair, he’s won three of his own and is very consistent. Some say Crosby which is completely justifiable. Three rings in his name, and is only the third player in hockey’s illustrious history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s most valuable player. Without Crosby, maybe the Penguins are just a one and done playoff team, but with him, they’re arguably the best team in the game. You, like me, can hate Crosby and that’s fine. But if you love the game of hockey, it’s impossible to neglect just how good of a player he truly is.
Yes, last night’s win puts the dynasty word into the Penguins. Three cups in ten years and back-to-back. The only team with that sort of credit is the Blackhawks and they got bounced by the eight seed in the playoffs; the team that lost to Pittsburgh last night. The one thing that I find incredible about the Penguins, believe it or not, is their love of taking the risk to surround their core with proven players. They have Crosby and Malkin, two superstars in their own name. But management makes the necessary jump to add more talent every year even when the team loses players. It’s that kind of mentality that makes good teams become great and it’s something I just wish the Flyers would do. Maybe in time, but for now, the Penguins remain at the top.